The June 24th Seattle Times headline article, “Region’s voters are next stop for $54 billion light-rail plan” is really the start of Sound Transit’s attempt to perpetrate a "monumental fraud" on the area’s residents. What they claim is a response to “public demand for more light-rail sooner” is their way to perpetuate the Prop 1 light rail extensions. What they called “a gift to our grand children” when Prop 1 was approved in 2008 will increase congestion for cross-lake commuters, have at best a miniscule impact on I-5 congestion, and will require a huge subsidy to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue. ST3 funding not only allows them to proceed with Prop 1, the extensions it funds exacerbates the costs, and does little to reduce congestion.
The fundamental problem with Sound Transit’s Prop 1 extensions along I-5 and I-90 is they are all routed through the “bus tunnel” in Seattle. A 2004 PSRC study “High Capacity Transit Corridor Assessment “ concluded that the tunnel limited capacity to 8880 riders per hour in each direction. They based that capacity on their conclusion the tunnel limited light rail to one 4-car train every 4 minutes and that the 74-seat cars can reasonably accommodate 148 riders. Thus, light rail in Seattle will never be able to emulate BART’s 450,000 daily ridership with its ten-car trains every 4 minutes across the Bay bridge.
The fraud is Sound Transits ST3 emphasis on “when” commuters will get light rail rather than “how much” it will cost them and “what” will they get when they “get it”. Sound Transit claims ST3 will cost the “average” household an additional $400 per year. However, a Seattle Times April 4 editorial included a former WSDOT secretary estimate that ST3 passage would result in the average Seattle household paying a total of $2800 annually for public transit. I’ll leave it to others to decide which is more credible.
Whatever the costs the “benefits” to residents throughout the area will be minimal. Eastside cross-lake commuters will get absolutely nothing from their “contribution” to ST3 to change the previous post claim that East Link is a “fraud”. It will increase I-90 Bridge congestion and do nothing to ease the congestion I-90 corridor commuters face in the East Gate area.
The increased I-90 Bridge congestion and the Sound Transit decision not to include BRT on SR-520 means ST3 will result in thousands of additional commuters forced to pay bridge tolls for their commutes into and out of Seattle. Sound Transit attempts to appease east side voters with light rail from South Kirkland P&R through Bellevue to Issaquah ignores the need to spend the millions required for added parking for access when it finally begins operation in 2041.
ST3 “benefits” to Seattle area residents will also be “minimal”. Only 25% use public transit. A 4/11 Seattle Times “Flocking to Buses” article reports “one out of five, that’s 78,000 Seattleites — get to our jobs” ride buses. However, there’s very little indication that ST3 money will be used to increase bus ridership attracting the 189,947 commuters (according to article) who continue to drive alone. The other ~200,000 residents who don’t commute will also get no benefit.
ST3 will also do very little to increase the number of transit riders who currently use Central Link to commute. The 2015 Sound Transit year-end ridership report that Central Link’s 36,000 weekday boardings indicates some 18,000 rode light rail for their morning and afternoon commutes along the route between SeaTac and Westlake station. They will benefit very little from ST3 extensions.
The 24,000 boardings added since University Link began operation presumably reflect an additional 12,000 morning and afternoon commuters use the extension. ST3 extensions beyond the Prop 1 extensions to Northgate and Lynnwood to Everett will likely reduce their access to light rail. The problem is the 8880 rph capacity doesn’t even accommodate the 33,000 commuters who, according to an Oct 2014 Seattle Times report, used buses during the three-hour morning and afternoon commutes into and out of Seattle. Thus light rail access to University Link extensions will be limited by how many I-5 bus riders Sound Transit transfers to light rail.
Whatever bus routes they terminate at one of the Central Link extension stations will have a miniscule effect on the congestion on the two I-5 HOV lanes. Sound Transit could use the Northgate and beyond extensions to add transit capacity rather than replace existing bus routes. However providing access to light rail stations requires they add parking near stations or at existing and new P&R lots with bus routes to stations; neither of which is mentioned in ST3 proposal.
Once they did so the obvious question would be “why not route the buses directly into Seattle and avoid the billions required for light rail?” Especially since the operating costs for light rail are nearly twice those for bus service with comparable capacity.
In conclusion the Seattle tunnel prevents Sound Transit’s ST3 from ever significantly reducing congestion along I-5 and I-90 corridors. Their attempt to persuade voters to allow them to spend much of the $54 billion creating a “spine” to do so meets my definition of a “monumental fraud”.